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Fleischer Masters Prokofiev, CSO Impresses with Strauss

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 6, 2016 - 12:30:06 PM in reviews_2016

Leon Fleischer

Friday’s Cincinnati Symphony concert at Music Hall was a time to celebrate the great American pianist Leon Fleischer and to be immersed in Richard Strauss.

 Fleischer, now 87, performed Prokofiev’s Concerto for the Left Hand Alone in its CSO premiere, and the program concluded with Strauss” autobiographical tone poem “Symphonia domestica.” Fleischer, who at the age of 37  fell victim to a devastating condition of his right hand (focal dystonia), only to overcome it and resume his remarkable career, offered a splendid performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto (composed for pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I, but in fact never performed it).

It is an attractive work that shows off the virtuosity of the pianist, as it did here, opening with bright piano runs.  The first movement is brief and introductory, leading to a slow, dreamy Andante with a contrasting mid-section that featured considerable interplay between soloist and strings, ending with pizzicato, flute and piano. The third movement began in declamatory style, followed by rapid passages for orchestra and piano, then a slow, march-like episode that picks up speed. The rapid, moto perpetuo finale ended with soft runs and a standing ovation from the crowd. All was clearly and cleanly executed by Fleischer and the CSO.

For his finale, Perick led (from memory) Strauss’ ode to his own family life. The CSO (which has performed it nine times previously, the last in 2000, also led by Perick) produced a big, luscious sound with extraordinary playing by the winds, including principal oboist Dwight Parry. A tone poem, it depicts a day in the life of the Strauss family. Seven strokes of glockenspiel mark 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and a passionate episode is devoted to the husband and wife’s lovemaking. At 45 minutes, it is lengthy and some audience members dozed off, but with exceptional playing by the CSO, it made a fine impression.

The concert opened with Otto Nicolai’s thoroughly jolly Overture to “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” which never fails to please.

Repeat is at 8 p.m. tonight (Saturday Feb. 6) at Music Hall.